Across the frozen pond

DARREN FRIESEN, SPECIAL TO SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

LONDON, England -- There's an overwhelming consensus the NHL will one day set up shop in Europe.

For veteran players, the possibility of regularly making the long sojourns across the Atlantic is something they know they'll never have to deal with. Yet, they all weigh in on the issue and believe it's inevitable.

The younger generation doesn't deviate far from that of their older teammates, saying "it's coming, but it's probably a long way down the road."

While no official plan has been laid out for expanding into Europe, one could assume that of all the major North American sports leagues, the NHL would have a vested interested in this territory seeing as so many of the players come from points on the continent.

That said, if commissioner Gary Bettman was hoping to make London a future hot-bed of hockey anytime soon, he's sorely mistaken.

While it could be seen as a smart publicity stunt to have the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings start the 2007-2008 NHL season in London, problem is, no one's paying attention in this soccer-mad nation.

Unless you have David Beckham carrying around the Stanley Cup through the cobblestone streets of the city, not much is going to lift the heads of busy Londoners who are buried in their BlackBerrys and business sections.

LITTLE FANFARE

Fact is, while the NHL has managed to sell out both games for the season-opening puck drop at the O2 arena in London, the game that Canadians love so much has barely made a blip on the radar, overshadowed by local sports and the upcoming NBA and NFL games here.

As one local London journalist so aptly remarked: "When India plays Pakistan in a cricket match in Toronto it gets sold out, but that doesn't necessarily mean there's a buzz in the city about it."

Despite this, players seemed supportive of the idea of trying to promote the game in London and the possibility they may one day make this a regular stop on the NHL schedule.

"Why are we here? You'd have to ask the league about that," said Ducks defenceman Chris Pronger. "It's an exciting place to start the season, I guess. It's an opportunity for us to market and brand the game over here and show London fans what our game's all about."

Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle wasn't quite as enthusiastic about travelling 12 hours to see his team in its first regular-season action but he supported the league, nonetheless.

"It's the hand we've been dealt," said Carlyle. "We're never happy with scheduling -- coaches are never happy -- but we felt like we were in a position to support the league by coming over here. We believe there is some value in exposing more people to the game."

The Ducks attempted to do just that by taking a tour with the Stanley Cup around London on Thursday.

However, before they got the chance to see any of the sights, Phil Pritchard of the Hockey Hall of Fame had something pretty important to show the players before they boarded a vintage double decker bus.

"Our names are on it now, that's awesome," said Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf after seeing the Stanley Cup. Upon hearing this, one by one, last year's champions gathered around to see, for the first time, their names engraved on the famous trophy.

From there, it was all aboard the vintage tour bus and off to see the historic sights of London.

TOURING LONDON

Upon entering the heart of London, the players and the Cup were greeted by, well, no one.

Other than the occasional photograph, not many people took notice of the larger than average men walking beside Big Ben with hockey's Holy Grail.

When people did stop, it was mainly because they wanted to see the trophy that was born in England.

"That doesn't surprise me," said a British passerby about the Cup coming from a Regent Street silversmith 115 years ago. "We used to make some of the most beautiful silver in the world, still do."

Others were more attracted to the image of the Cup rather than the guys holding it.

When asked if they knew the significance of the trophy they just had their picture taken with, Dorothy and Nicole - a mother and daughter enjoying lunch beside the Thames -- sheepishly said "no, we just thought it had to be something special because it was so beautiful."

This is not to say the players went entirely unnoticed by the small legion of hockey fans who live in London.

A Latvian family, who reside in North London, told the players they would be at the game on Sunday and were huge fans.

Others such as Sasha and Rebecca, both native Londoners, knew there were games here, but didn't have any plans to attend. However, they didn't pass up an opportunity to have a photo taken with some of the players and Lord Stanley's Mug.

From a media standpoint, nothing is about to rip Premier League soccer from the headlines.

Upon the Stanley Cup champs' arrival in London and following their first practice, only two British media outlets covered the skate.

In addition, promotion for the game wasn't prominent either. Signs around the O2 -- the mulit-million pound entertainment centre in Greenwich -- were everywhere, but as for the rest of the city, one wouldn't know the NHL was set to start its season here.

According to Ducks goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the league has done its part, now it's up to the players.

"It's a great game," said Giguere. "It has everything you need in a sport -- skill, fast-paced and toughness. It's the best sport in the world and once people come and see it live, we're sure they'll be hooked."

Getzlaf, a former Calgary Hitmen captain, agreed with Giguere.

"I hope it ups the game, obviously that's what we're here for," he said.

"We're here to help promote hockey and help people around the world to start playing. I'm sure the fans are going to get into it and hopefully they can see a fast-paced game."


Videos

Photos